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Pet food manufacturers rely heavily on marketing principles when they produce cat food only meant for one breed or dog food for one particular size of dog. In reality, the ingredients used in all pet foods and treats are strikingly similar with only the macronutrient values varying.
Cats can safely eat many dog treats but there are a handful of ingredients in some dog treats to look out for and avoid feeding to cats. Those are garlic, onion and propylene glycol. However, if a cat only ate one dog treat with these ingredients, the amount ingested is likely too small in most cases to cause major harm.
Two Popular Dog Treats Compared
Now that you know what to look for, you should be able to quickly identify dog treats that are not great for cats to eat. Let’s take a look at a few popular brands of dog and cat treats to compare the ingredients.
The first treat, Pup-peroni is a “soft-style” treat for dogs. Many soft dog treats contain propylene glycol which acts as a moisture-retaining agent. This particular treat also has garlic powder and onion extract. All three are no-no’s for cats! Read on to the next section to find out why.
Pup-Peroni Original: NOT OK for CATS
I consider Pup-Peroni the ultimate indulgent dog junk food to be enjoyed by pups occasionally (like me enjoying a Snickers bar). But keep the Pup-Peronis away from your cats! They contain all three of our “cat caution” ingredients.
Ingredients: Beef, Meat By-Products, Soy Grits, Sugar, Liver, Salt, Propylene Glycol, Garlic Powder, Caramel Color, Potassium Sorbate (Used As A Preservative), Natural Smoke Flavor, Sodium Nitrite (For Color Retention), Red 40, BHA (Used As A Preservative), Onion Extract.
Milk-Bone Flavor Snacks (Biscuit-Style): OK for CATS
The good old classic dog biscuit style Milk-Bone dog treats are OK for cats. Read the label and you won’t find any of the caution ingredients:
Ingredients: Wheat Flour, Wheat Bran, Meat and Bone Meal, Beef Fat (Preserved with BHA), Poultry By-Product Meal, Wheat Germ, Chicken Meal, Salt, Bacon Fat, Dicalcium Phosphate, Titanium Dioxide (Color), Brewers Dried Yeast, Malted Barley Flour, Iron Oxide (Color), Choline Chloride, Minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Manganous Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Niacin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement), Sodium Metabisulfite, Red 40, BHA (Used As A Preservative), Blue 1.
Other Dog Treats That Are OK for CATS
A recent search for the best-selling dog treats on Amazon.com produced the following lists. All of these dog treats are SAFE for cats when eaten occasionally.
Can Cats Eat Dog Jerky?
Cats can safely eat some dog jerky treats but not all kinds. You have to check the label for the cat caution ingredients (propylene glycol, onion and garlic).
The term dog jerky covers a number of different dog treats. The simplest kind of jerky would be homemade treats made from strips of dehydrated meat. With no other ingredients besides meat, this kind of dog jerky is fine for cats to eat.
Take a look at these two examples of commercial dog jerky treats with one being OK and the other not so good for cats.
Dog Jerky OK for CATS
Store-bought dog jerky usually has other ingredients added as preservatives, flavoring and moisteners. Purina Waggin’ Train dog jerky treats are OK for cats to eat.
Ingredients: Chicken Breast, Vegetable Glycerin.
Dog Jerky NOT OK for CATS
On the other hand, let’s examine another popular dog treat in the jerky style. At first glance, it looks very similar to the previous product.
This Newman’s Own beef dog jerky is NOT OK for cats due to the inclusion of garlic powder. One bite of these treats won’t kill your cat, but long-term feeding could cause anemia.
Ingredients: Beef, Brown Sugar, Garlic Powder, Salt, Natural Flavor, Apple Cider Vinegar, Paprika, Mixed Tocopherols (a Preservative).
Can Cats Eat Dog Chews?
Rawhides and bully sticks are typically safe for cats because they don’t contain any of the big three cat-caution ingredients. But they’re still pretty notorious for causing upset stomachs and diarrhea in some dogs and the same could be expected for some cats.
A cat owner should check the label on anything considered a dog chew. Look out for the three caution ingredients: onion, garlic and propylene glycol. Avoid feeding your cat any dog chew with these ingredients. They’re not highly toxic, but if your healthy cat eats enough she could develop anemia.
Can Cats Eat Peanut Butter Dog Treats?
It seems like most dogs LOVE peanut butter! But can cats eat peanut butter or dog treats containing peanut butter?
Plain peanut butter (sweetened or not) is OK for cats, it’s the other ingredients added to dog treats that could be a problem. Check all labels for the same three cat-caution ingredients we’ve been discussing: garlic, onion and propylene glycol.
You may have heard that the sugar-free sweetener xylitol that is present in some peanut butter is highly toxic to DOGS. Fortunately, xylitol is not toxic to cats (5).
Peanut Butter Dog Treats OK for CATS
Here’s a popular soft dog treat made with peanut butter that your cat might like to try. These would be OK for cats to eat considering the label doesn’t have any caution ingredients.
Ingredients: Unbleached wheat flour, cane molasses, blackstrap cane molasses, peanut butter, palm oil, vegetable glycerin, whole wheat flour, oats, dried whey, salt, natural peanut butter flavor, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), egg powder, lecithin, brewer’s dried yeast.
Heinz Body Anemia in Cats
Some ingredients in dog biscuits and chews can cause health problems for cats. However, in most cases, a single treat or even a treat once a week probably won’t cause any trouble.
In other words, if your cat sneaks a bite of a dog biscuit with these ingredients, you don’t need to rush her to the veterinarian. If she eats treats with these ingredients daily for multiple days, you could see some changes on blood tests whether or not you notice any symptoms.
The problem caused by our three cat caution ingredients (onion, garlic and propylene glycol) is oxidative changes in the oxygen-carrying compound, hemoglobin, inside a cat’s red blood cells. The caution ingredients cause hemoglobin to twist and rupture the red blood cell’s membrane. If enough red blood cells rupture, the cat will experience symptoms of anemia including:
- Pale gums
- Increased respiratory rate
- Decreased appetite
Onions, Garlic and Other Alliums
Cats are quite sensitive to foods from the allium family which includes onion, garlic, chives and leeks. These plants contain a compound called n-propyl disulfide which causes oxidative damage inside red blood cells.
Dogs can tolerate a bit of onion or garlic powder in their dog food and treats, but cats have developed anemia after eating chicken baby food containing onion powder for a couple of months (9).
Propylene glycol is a preservative used in some semi-moist dog food and treats. High levels cause Heinz bodies and increased D-lactate levels in cats which can cause depression and ataxia (wobbly gait) (4).
The changes to hemoglobin caused by propylene glycol may not be severe enough to cause clinical signs if a cat eats just a little bit. But one study found Heinz body formation and associated anemia in cats fed as low as 6% of their diet from propylene glycol (2).
It’s definitely not a great idea to feed dog treats containing onion, garlic or propylene glycol to your cat on purpose. And especially avoid feeding them habitually!
Safe Ingredients You May Have Heard Were Toxic to Cats
Plenty of well-meaning individuals have given questionable advice on the internet about ingredients in dog food and cat food that are supposedly poisonous to pets. The following ingredients may be confusing or controversial, but they’re really not poisonous, except in the case of xylitol which IS poisonous but only to dogs.
Vegetable glycerin is a liquid substance derived from natural oils. Glycerin is used as a “humectant” in pet food and treats. It is toxic to animals only when eaten in MASSIVE quantities. One study showed cats excreted glycerol in their urine when it made up 10% of a cat’s diet, but it had no apparent health consequences (8).
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are commonly used preservatives. The US FDA (3) and the National Cancer Institute have determined these substances are safe when added to food in small quantities. While it’s true that they have cancer-promoting properties but only when consumed in massive quantities. They also have ANTI-CANCER properties (7)!
My advice? If you can avoid pet food and treats containing BHA and BHT, all the better. But don’t panic if your dog or cat gets an occasional bite of these preservatives.
Rosemary extract is included as a natural preservative in pet supplements, food and treats. A few years ago, internet speculators were asserting that rosemary extract causes seizures or other neurological problems in cats.
The concern probably stems from the fact that rosemary essential oil has a large amount of phenols which cats are very sensitive to. But rosemary extract is collected in a different way from essential oil and doesn’t contain the same compounds (6).
We don’t have any science-backed evidence of rosemary extract causing problems in cats. A 2008 study found no signs of acute toxicity in rats when they were fed a whopping 2000 mg/kg of rosemary extract (1).
The essential oil of rosemary could cause a problem for cats, but there is no data documenting acute problems in cats eating a tiny amount of rosemary extract used as a preservative in dog treats.
Xylitol is a sugar substitute used to sweeten human food products. Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs, causing blood sugar problems and liver failure even at low doses. It’s not an ingredient you’ll find in dog treats, anyway, but I wanted to point out that xylitol is NOT TOXIC to cats (5) as several internet sources would have you believe.
Dog Treats NOT OK for CATS
This table shows popular dog treats that have ingredients that would be a problem for a cat or kitten. Avoid feeding these to your cat, but a single bite or rare ingestion of a whole treat is unlikely to cause noticeable problems.
My Favorite Treats Safe for Dogs and Cats
My all-time favorite pet treat for both dogs and cats is simple, dehydrated turkey breast. Here’s the brand I like:
Pet parents, cats and dogs all love these treats. They stay fresh a long time and it’s easy to break off tiny pieces for rewards and training. I also like to toss the little pieces for animals to distract them from procedures that might upset them (like taking their temperature, etc.).
Unlike dehydrated liver treats (which is kind of like “crack” to many animals), you won’t overdose your pet on vitamin A even if you give them quite a few of these turkey treats.
So, can cats eat dog treats? Many dog treats are perfectly safe for cats. But some have ingredients that can cause health problems for cats if they eat a lot or eat the treats regularly over a period of days to weeks.
Always check the label on any dog treat you plan on feeding to a cat! Look out for garlic, onion, and propylene glycol. If you see any of these listed on the label’s ingredient list, don’t feed that treat to your kitty.
There are plenty of dog treats without these problematic ingredients that your dog will love. Then you don’t have to worry at all if your pup decides to share one of his nummies with his feline furry friend!
- Anadon, A., Martinez-Larranaga, M. R., Martinez, M. A., Ares, I., Garcia-Risco, M. R., Senorans, F. J., & Reglero, G. (2008). Acute oral safety study of rosemary extracts in rats. Journal of food protection, 71(4), 790-795.
- Bauer, M. C., Weiss, D. J., & Perman, V. (1992). Hematologic alterations in adult cats fed 6 or 12% propylene glycol. American journal of veterinary research, 53(1), 69-72.
- CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2021, from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=172.115
- Christopher, M. M., Eckfeldt, J. H., & Eaton, J. W. (1990). Propylene glycol ingestion causes D-lactic acidosis. Laboratory investigation; a journal of technical methods and pathology, 62(1), 114-118.
- Jerzsele, Á., Karancsi, Z., Pászti-Gere, E., Sterczer, Á., Bersényi, A., Fodor, K., … & Vajdovich, P. (2018). Effects of po administered xylitol in cats. Journal of veterinary pharmacology and therapeutics, 41(3), 409-414.
- Labs, V. (2017, April 06). Is rosemary bad for my pet? Retrieved April 17, 2021, from https://www.vetriscience.com/blog/2017/04/is-rosemary-bad-for-my-pet/
- Kahl, R., & Kappus, H. (1993). Toxicology of the synthetic antioxidants BHA and BHT in comparison with the natural antioxidant vitamin E. Zeitschrift fur Lebensmittel-untersuchung und-forschung, 196(4), 329-338.
- Machado, G. S., Pezzali, J. G., Marx, F. R., Kessler, A. M., & Trevizan, L. (2017). Palatability, digestibility, and metabolizable energy of dietary glycerol in adult cats. Journal of animal science, 95(2), 752-760.
- Robertson, J. E., Christopher, M. M., & Rogers, Q. R. (1998). Heinz body formation in cats fed baby food containing onion powder. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 212(8), 1260-1266.
Last update on 2021-10-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API